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The concept of ‘policing by consent’ is central to the British model of policing and asserts that the power of police to execute their duties depends on the common consent of the public (see Commons Library note Policing in the UK). For policing by consent to be effective, the police require the trust and confidence of the public. High levels of trust and confidence in the police in England and Wales have been shown to facilitate compliance and cooperation with the police. In the Strategic Policing Requirement 2023, the Home Secretary stated that “improving trust and confidence in policing” is a key objective for police as part of their response to tackling violence against women and girls.  

This POSTnote outlines recent trends in levels of public trust in the police, including variation between demographic groups. It summarises research on barriers to trust in the police and the effectiveness of different approaches to increasing trust. It also outlines stakeholder views on policy priorities. Policing is a devolved matter in the UK; this POSTnote focuses on England and Wales but presents findings from across the UK and draws on international research evidence.

Definitions of ‘trust’ in the police  

There are different definitions of ‘trust’ and ‘confidence’ in the police and the broader concept of ‘legitimacy’. In this POSTnote, trust in the police is defined as a belief in the reliability of the police to behave fairly and effectively during interactions. Trust in police encompasses trust in specific officers and the police service as an institution. People are more likely to trust the police if they have positive evaluations and expectations of the fairness, effectiveness, and integrity of the police. Confidence in the police represents a generalised support of the police, or the degree to which trust is systematically shown to be warranted.  

Key points 

  • Evidence suggests that levels of trust and confidence in the police in England and Wales have declined in recent years and vary by ethnicity and gender. 
  • Trust can be affected by individual and group experiences of the police, police conduct and performance, and media coverage of the police. 
  • Research suggests that trust in the police is more highly correlated with perceptions of police fairness than with perceptions of effectiveness in dealing with crime. 
  • Key factors that increase public trust in the police include improving the quality of interactions between officers and members of the public and increasing aspects of community policing that are focused on addressing local concerns.  

Policy priorities  

Stakeholders have identified several priorities for policymakers to consider, including improving: 

Transparency and accountability  

In November 2022, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services conducted an inspection of vetting, misconduct, and misogyny in the police service, which recommended improvements to vetting processes and the way police assess and investigate allegations of misconduct. The specialist support service Women’s Aid has called for “the full implementation of the inspectorate’s recommendations on vetting, misconduct and misogyny in policing”. In December 2022, the Institute for Government highlighted concerns around the lack of formal sanctioning powers for Police and Crime Panels in their scrutiny of Police and Crime CommissionersBaroness Casey’s review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) called for the misconduct process in the MPS to be reformed and for new oversight and accountability mechanisms. In January 2023, the Home Office began a review into the process of police officer dismissals to “ensure that the public can be confident that those falling far short of the high standards expected of them can be removed from policing”.  

Police performance and culture 

A number of inquiries into police culture and the protection of women are ongoing, including: Operation Soteria Bluestone’s investigation in response to the Government’s End-to-End Rape Review, and Part two of the Angiolini Inquiry to investigate police culture and concerns surrounding women’s safety. The Casey review called for “deep-seated” cultures to be tackled, for change in the MPS to be sustained. In relation to concerns over police performance in tackling fraud and economic crime, the Government has stated that a Fraud Strategy will be published shortly.  

Police-public interactions 

Academics and independent think tanks have called for the principles of procedural justice to be followed during interactions between public and police, particularly with respect to the application of stop and search in Black communities. The Casey review concluded there was “institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia” in the MPS and called for a “fundamental reset” in the use of stop and search in London. The 2022 ‘Police Race Action Plan’, developed jointly by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing, recognises the “longstanding challenges” in the relationship between Black communities and the police and committed to carrying out an assessment of neighbourhood policing with respect to Black communities.  

Police visibility, community engagement and local problem solving 

The Police Foundation’s strategic review in 2022 called for police forces to deploy a significant proportion of recently recruited officers into community policing, with the aim of increasing trust and confidence in the police. The Commons Public Accounts Committee 2022 report on the Police Uplift Programme recommended that the Home Office should by April 2023 develop a framework to evaluate the impact of the Programme, to demonstrate whether objectives to reduce crime and improve public confidence in policing have been achieved. The Casey review called for “a new deal” for Londoners, to rebuild trust, confidence and consent.  


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

Members of the POST Board* 

Neil Baker, British Psychological Society 

Prof. Ben Bradford, University College London* 

Dr David Buil-Gil, University of Manchester 

Dr Paul Dawson, Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime* 

Kathryn Farrow, University of Oxford* 

Robert Hardware, National Police Chiefs’ Council* 

Andy Higgins, The Police Foundation* 

Home Office* 

Arisa Kimaram, More in Common* 

Edmund Koerber, Independent Office for Police Conduct* 

Alex Mayes, Victim Support 

Arthur Mellors, Victim Support 

Prof. Kristina Murphy, Griffith University* 

Dr Paul Quinton, College of Policing* 

Hannah Randle, British Psychological Society 

Prof. Wesley G. Skogan, Northwestern University* 

Lucy Sladen, College of Policing 

Prof. Betsy Stanko OBE, Operation Soteria Bluestone* 

Prof. Dame Sara Thornton, University of Nottingham* 

Rachael Toon, Independent Office for Police Conduct* 

Dr Clare N. Torrible, University of Bristol 

Janaya Walker, End Violence Against Women Coalition 

Dr Doirean Wilson, Middlesex University London 

Dr Julia Yesberg, University College London 

* Denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing. 

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